By Sammy Nandlall
**Sammy Nandlall, a volunteer ambassador for the Organ Donor Foundation (ODF), has written this piece aiming to educate people about the vital, lifesaving work the foundation and volunteers do, and the unique opportunity for ordinary people to commit to saving a life.
Formerly from KZN, she has family on the province’s North Coast, but now lives in Gauteng.
Sammy, a registered donor, along with members of her family, is waiting for an organ. She says she never dreamed that one day she would be one of those needing a kidney transplant. “I am on the waiting list for a cadaver donor. I work full-time and I am on dialysis three times a week, for four hours each session.
“I am the voice for the voiceless and all the people out there awaiting organ transplants. I realised that I couldn’t sit back and wait for a miracle to happen. I had to make a change, a difference, to be heard, to listen, to help.”
The Mission of the ODF:
To raise awareness among South Africans about the need for, and benefits of, organ- and tissue-donation transplantation.
To advocate, motivate and educate people to pledge to donate their organs after death. To create awareness about the high number of people who die due to organ failure – this is the result of a shortage of available organs in SA. Also, to eliminate the fears, perception and myths people may have in mind about organ donation. The foundation endeavours to highlight that organ donation can be life-changing for those in need.
Organ donation is the medical process of taking an organ from a deceased person and surgically transplanting it into another person who is in dire need of an organ.
Fears and misconceptions:
There are many fears and misconceptions about organ donation, which can prevent people from considering donating their organs when they die. This leads to many organ failure deaths that could have been prevented, had the deceased donated their organs.
Here are the a few misconceptions:
Will the donation delay the funeral?
No. The body is returned to the family for burial or cremation as soon as the donated organs and/or tissues have been removed.
Will the donation leave my body disfigured?
No. Extreme amounts of respect and dignity are given to every donor. The method of removing the organs and tissues is done with such great care that the process does not change the body’s appearance.
Are there any religious obligations and concerns regarding organ transplantation?
Most religions approve of and support organ donation, as it is consistent with life preservation. If you are unsure about this, you can ask your spiritual leader.
The reality is that organ donors save lives. Donation is made possible by people who voluntarily decide to donate their organs and tissue for transplantation. There are two types of transplants – organ, and tissue transplants.
The organs (heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys, and lungs) can save up to seven lives. The tissues (corneas, bone, tendons, heart valves, skin) can help up to 50 people. By becoming a donor, a person has the potential to help more than 50 people when they die.
You do not have to donate all your organs when you die. You can specify what you want to donate.
Who can be a donor?
Nerissa Card, the co-editor of The Meander Chronicle, has been registered as an organ donor for years. She said her motivation was that it provides the chance to give someone another chance of life… to save a death that could have been prevented.
“I was also inspired by my gran, who was registered as an organ donor, something that wasn’t that common in those days,” she said.
The sad reality is that the need for life-saving organ transplants is increasing much faster than organs are becoming available. Organ transplants have saved millions of lives, but every day, more critically ill patients are added to the national waiting list.
Anyone can be a potential donor. Irrespective of age, race or medical history, a person can potentially have their organs donated. Donation professionals review medical history to determine if there are any conditions that prevent you from donating. With recent advances in transplantation, more people can donate than before.
New-born babies and even the elderly have been organ donors. If a donor is under the age of 18, the consent of a parent or legal guardian is required. Adults can also make living donations, meaning that a living adult can choose to give an organ, like a kidney, or part of an organ, like a liver, to someone in need.
A person is eligible to become an organ donor if:
They are in good physical and mental health;
They are willing to donate out of kindness, without expecting anything in return;
They are not donating under compulsion;
They are aware of the process of organ donation, the benefits as well as the risks;
How to become an organ donor?
Register online at www.odf.org.za or call the Organ Donor Foundation’s toll-free number – 0800 22 66 11.
You will then be sent an organ donor card which you will need to fill out. Always carry this card with you. It is suggested you keep it in your wallet or purse.
You will receive stickers to place on your ID document and driver’s licence.
Discuss your decision with your family so they are aware that you are now an organ donor. Ask your loved ones to respect and honour your decision. It is very important that you make the people around you aware of your wishes.
Set up a living will in which you indicate your wishes to donate your organs should you die.
How much does donation cost you?
Donation costs absolutely nothing. By our laws, the hospital and/or tissue bank will cover all medical expenses from the moment your family gives consent to have your organs/tissue donated.
The donor and their family do not receive any compensation for donating any organs or tissue.
Donation is a gift and should come from kindness.
Organ donation is made possible by heroes – people who voluntarily decide to donate organs and tissues for transplant.
You can always change your mind
At the end of the day, organ donation is a personal choice. If you change your mind, you will need to tear up your donor card and remove the stickers from you ID and driver’s licence. You must also inform your family and friends that you no longer wish to donate your organs or tissues when you die. It’s as simple as that.
The number of people awaiting transplants continues to increase. The shortage of potential donors remains a great concern.
Organ donation is not a tragedy. But it can be a beautiful light in the midst of one.
In closing Sammy said she wished there could be much more awareness, for all those in need. “I do not believe or agree that organ donor awareness should only be done once a year, or in a dedicated month. This should be throughout the year.”
She said, generally, the most needed organs were kidneys and livers.
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